2011 Manhattan Men's Soccer Season Outlook
Moving forward will be a big theme this year for the Manhattan College men's soccer program. Back for his second year at the helm, head coach Ashley Hammond is looking to use the bright spots from 2010 as the foundation for a successful 2011 campaign. A group of 12 fresh faces, highlighted by 10 freshman, will be the cornerstone as the Jaspers try to move closer to their goal of fighting for the MAAC Championship and a place in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the struggles of last season, the coaching staff is high on the possibilities of what this fall will bring. "We had an incredibly tough opening year as coaches and players through the transition of the roster, youth and injuries," Hammond said. "We hope that by adding depth to the squad and ensuring players are more prepared physically and emotionally for the year ahead, we will step forward and Jasper's Soccer will regain the success it once had."
The core of returning players is highlighted by senior captain Christopher Holihan. Holihan, a senior defender, sat out the majority of last season but is healthy and ready to reclaim his spot as the anchor of the back line. A "true leader in every sense", Holihan's experience will help a defensive group that is the most veteran on the team.
"Chris is devoted to being a better player and reaching a higher level," noted Hammond. "What separates him is his genuine care for teammates. He is the type of person you can count on and our young squad will need that across the board."
Looking to provide the offensive spark for the Jaspers will be assistant team captain Daniel Festa. A sophomore midfielder, Festa is top returning shooter having put 25 shots on net in his rookie season. A "dynamic, technical midfielder" his aggressive attitude and unique skill set will be a key aspect to an offense that is filled with youth and promise.
"Daniel had a wonderful 1st year at the school," says Hammond. "He played every minute defiant, patient, and determined to drive this program to success.
Joining Holihan in the defensive third will be a handful of returning players that gained valuable experience in tough season. Juniors CJ Dragovich and Isiah Millington will help in leadership rolls for the green and white. In his first season on the field, Dragovich played in every game making 11 starts along the way. Millington will look to see more starts after playing in fifteen matches in his sophomore season.
Second year players Sam Howard, Jake Donowick, and Erik Montinard add to the depth of the Jasper's with each having played in double-digit contests their freshman seasons. Joining them will be freshman Dennis Michalak. At 6'4", the New York native provides a serious size mismatch on defense.
Behind the defense, MAAC All-Rookie team Goalkeeper Chris Lands returns in net. The sophomore led the conference last year in saves with 80, and saves per game (5.33). Lands, who beat out two lettermen last season, will compete with Quinnipiac transfer George Ellis for time between the pipes. Ellis, a 6'4" keeper from England, played two years with the Bobcats before transferring to Riverdale.
The offense will be looking for a major spark this year from an onslaught of newcomers and veteran talent. Joining assistant captain Festa in the midfield is junior Jose Armas and sophomore Carlo Giachino. Both players made double-digit appearances last season and provide veteran relief in the attacking front.
Expected to help contribute in the middle of the field are freshmen Jake Scavetta, Andrew Santos, Reese Akers, Rob Tedesco, and Jonathan Segarra. Akers is no stranger to Jasper soccer as his step-brother, Sam Howard, is a sophomore on this year's team.
Other newcomers that will be asked to produce early include midfield/forward combos such as John Paul Veliz, Jason Iannone, and Lucas Pilar da Silva. "It's tough to separate any of our newcomers as they all bring a different quality and impact on our program," head coach Ashley Hammond said of his new players. "We have players coming in from England, Brazil, New Zealand, but have also recruited some top talent from USS Development Academy programs at Albertson, Matchfit Academy and Texas Rush."
On the attacking front, a high powered group brings high expectations for a team that struggled scoring in 2010.
"We invested heavily into the forward area of our team after we analyzed our needs and we will be adding an international flavor to our attack in 2011," said Hammond. "Last year we played the last few games with no recognized forward and this was evident on our stats. We have remedied this now."
Competing to be that top scoring threat is senior Deia Nassar. Coming off an injury plagued year, he will face tough opposition from Saint John's transfer Trevor Chiduku. Chiduku, who will be a senior this year, has NCAA Tournament experience winning the BIG EAST last year.
Along with the two seniors will be freshman Tommy Amos. Amos, a distant cousin of Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, played on the Wigan Athletics Reserve team back in England.
THE FALL 2011 SCHEDULE
The Jaspers road to the MAAC Championships begins with a lengthy road trip that kicks off at Villanova on August 26th. They will then travel upstate to West Point, N.Y. to take on Army (August 29) before going cross-country to play San Diego State (September 9) and San Diego (September 11).
Manhattan will open up their home season on September 16th when they host Saint Francis of New York at Gaelic Park before going back on the road to face Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J. (September 23). They will then play three straight games at home including the conference opener. First, Bryant University will visit Riverdale on September 25th, followed by cross-borough rival Fordham (September 30).
"We took another tough out of conference schedule as we believe that in order to win the MAAC you need to play and compete against teams ranked higher than the top team in our conference," Hammond said. "All teams go to the MAAC championship this year but we want to go as number 1."
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference slate begins at home for the Jaspers on October 2nd as they host defending conference champs, St. Peter's. The green and white will take a quick step out of conference and travel to Storrs, Conn. to play perennial power UCONN (October 4) before returning home to face Loyola (October 7) and Rider on October 9th.
Mid-October finds a brief two game road set upstate with conference matches against Canisius (October 14) and Niagara (October 16). The Jaspers then face Siena on October 21st and Marist on October 23rd at home at 10 a.m.
The regular season ends on the road against two top MAAC contenders in Fairfield (October 28) and pre-season number one Iona (October 30) before the MAAC Championships begin on November 3rd in Orlando, Fla. with the championship game being played on November 7th.
This year, all 10 MAAC schools will qualify for the conference tournament with the champion earning an automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament.